An Outdoor View: Trying new things in Cordova

Posted: Friday, December 19, 2008

A few days ago, I called Steve Ranney, owner/operator of Orca Adventure Lodge in Cordova. Modest to a fault, Steve is the kind of guy who has to be primed a bit before you can pump him for information.

"How was the fishing in the Cordova area this year?" I asked.

"This year was great. Lots of good fishing," he said.

I waited for more. Nothing. Having fished Cordova a few times, I knew there was more. The place is an angler's paradise, like the Kenai Peninsula, but without weekend warriors. It has stream fishing and ocean fishing. All the comforts anyone could desire, but remote and scenic enough to make you feel like you're in wilderness Alaska.żż

What finally got Steve wound up was the weather. Cordovans take pride in their stormy weather, which comes roaring off the Gulf of Alaska like a thing possessed. Rain doesn't just "fall" in Cordova. It cascades from the heavens in biblical deluges, often driven by howling winds.

When one of these storms hits the coast, the relatively short streams rise dramatically. Once while fishing the Katalla River, I watched a small tributary turn from a babbling brook to a raging torrent in a matter of minutes. This sort of rise in water level makes fishing difficult, if not impossible. żż

Fortunately, coastal rivers also drop quickly. If the rain stops, that is.

"We had a great silver run, really big fish," Steve said. "All through August the fishing was excellent. The silvers were up to 20 pounds. Big, strong fish. I had never seen so many fish in the Eyak River in August. But in September, constant rain caused the rivers to be so high, it slowed the fishing down. The fishing was still good, but it wasn't what it could've been. żż

"This year, the rivers came up and stayed up. What happens then is that the fish start moving, and they don't hold. And when they're moving, it's tough to catch them on flies. They've got one thing on their minds."

For years, Orca Adventure has been flying anglers out to remote streams and camps along the gulf coast, mainly for silver salmon. But Ranney and his guides have been discovering other possibilities.

"We've found a shallow-water fishery in the Gulf of Alaska, near Kayak Island, for big halibut and lingcod," he said. "I ran three of those trips this year, and we caught some really big fish. The biggest halibut was 312. We also did a couple of saltwater fly-fishing trips out there this year.

"I had six kids out there fishing for rockfish with fly rods. What a hoot. Hooks and fish were flying everywhere. We did a lot of family trips this year. I enjoy doing those. With kids, it has to be fast action. They're aren't going to sit out there all day for a nibble.

"We figure there are over 40 rivers we can fish here, over the season. We're finding there are more sea-run trout here than we ever dreamed of. Some of the areas we never looked at before are just loaded with fish."

Another discovery was that anglers enjoy fly fishing for chum salmon, which were there all along, but overlooked.

"Chums will hit a fly pretty readily," Steve said. "They come in July, when the weather is good, when there's 20 hours of light and sunny days."

The saltwater lapping at Cordova's shoreline is visited by "feeder" king salmon from the nearby gulf, but hardly anyone fishes for them. Now, one of Orca Adventure's guides has been trolling for them and having some luck.

"There are more kings around here than we thought there were," Steve said. "This summer, we caught a couple that were 35 pounds, plus.

"We started out doing some of the easier, more obvious fishing. Now we're able to try some of the different things."

Les Palmer lives in Sterling.

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